So, what happens during early out and no school teacher in-service days anyway? With a desire to answer that question and inform the public about the comprehensive professional development (PD) approach of Spencer Community Schools, Superintendent, Terry Hemann, shared that PD is an ongoing effort to improve practices and strategies for the benefit of providing a top-notch education. Joe Mueting, Professional Development and Curriculum Consultant, added there is ample evidence that continued PD has a direct impact on student achievement. “Spencer has always prioritized PD, and there is no doubt that it has improved student achievement and relationships between teachers and students which is helpful in so many areas,” said Mueting, noting that none of this would happen without the support of the school board and superintendent.
Achievement improves if teachers are given the training and necessary tools to meet the needs of diverse learners found in classrooms today. According to Mueting, education spends a fraction of the time industry spends on PD. Mueting believes it is an easy thing for some schools to put off, but Spencer has always prioritized working with teachers to help them professionally, and it has undoubtedly improved achievement and relationships between teachers. “The bottom line is that all PD is designed for the opportunity to continuously improve,” added Hemann.
“Planning for PD is very strategic. We look beyond one year, and that is one of the great things that we have done here. We’ve created a program that is ongoing, and it is all designed to help teachers become better teachers. In Spencer, we have a 7-year PD cycle with specific responsibilities completed in each of the seven years. For example, we look at things like standards, best practices, material selection, technology needs, and data review, among other things. Some of what we do is based on a response to what the Iowa Core is requiring and some is based on the needs of the departments,” said Mueting. Pat Briese, Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) Coordinator, added that PD also aligns to goals set based on the needs that surface from the District Data Profile, as well as academic and climate goals set at each building. The plan is flexible enough to respond to the Iowa Core expectations, but it is also a way to support each department in their own curriculum work. Spencer’s PD model is exemplary, and it is featured in the book, How Schools and Districts Meet Rigorous Standards Through Authentic Intellectual Work, published in 2016.
Another aspect of the PD framework is learning teams, which typically gather during in-services. “Every teacher is part of a learning team, and they meet eight times throughout the year. One of the reasons why we have ongoing in-services is to allow staff time for reflection with their colleagues and peers about their teaching and instructional strategies,” said Hemann. “During their time together, they use a framework of quality instruction to review practices and student work.”
Most of the building level PD needs are met on the early outs, and if there are K-12 district needs, they are typically handled at the all-day in-services. For example, in March, PD will be centered around the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Two full days of training will be held for all elementary teachers, and science teachers for grades six through twelve. “The Federal Government has defined the NGSS as our new standards in science. Over four years, teachers are required to complete two days of training each year to implement the standards, plus work on their own to determine that their lessons and units are designed to address all of the standards. This year’s training will be in March and is the second year of a 4-year roll out,” said Mueting. By the end of the four years, the science curriculum must be fully implemented, meaning the curriculum must be designed so that teachers can guarantee that the standards are being taught and assessed to every student. Mueting said that implementation of the science standards will have an impact at every level through increased expectations. Teachers not involved in the NGSS PD will be working on curriculum-based development, depending on where they are in the 7-year cycle.
Over the past year and a half, Spencer Schools has utilized the TLC structure to help implement and oversee PD. Through TLC, the district has hired and trained current teachers to become Instructional Mentor Coaches (IMC) as leaders of PD and within curriculum departments at each level. “Fundamentally, the idea is to create more and more leadership within the teaching ranks themselves, so that teachers can go to their peers to help each other, which is again proven to be one of the most effective ways to become a better teacher. The model is less evaluative and more supportive and growth-minded,” said Mueting.
Tammy Delaney, 6th grade teacher at Spencer Middle School, serves as an IMC. Delaney, along with her fellow IMC’s at the elementary, middle and high school, completed an application process to become selected. Delaney enjoys serving in this role, and said, “I think the TLC model enhances student learning. It has enabled teachers within our district to take on leadership roles.” She added that TLC is helping the district continue to create a positive learning experience for students and staff. “Collaborating with other teachers has been wonderful in that we both benefit from the coaching process and students reap the benefits of that collaboration,” said Delaney. The emphasis on improving practices and collaboration to provide the best possible education in an ever-changing field is a win-win for the staff and students at Spencer Community Schools.